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Improve management, Lower Swatara; use report as a guide: Editorial

Posted 8/29/18

The Lower Swatara Township Board of Commissioners needs to take very seriously the recent third-party report that shows areas of concern in how it handles personnel and management of employees.

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Improve management, Lower Swatara; use report as a guide: Editorial

Posted

The Lower Swatara Township Board of Commissioners needs to take very seriously the recent third-party report that shows areas of concern in how it handles personnel and management of employees.

We urge the members not to take the findings as a negative, but instead use it as a basis for improvement.

The board accepted the report at its Aug. 15 meeting. It was done by the Pennsylvania Economy League, “an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization; it is not an agency of the commonwealth,” according to its website.

The study was part of the township’s efforts to get in the state’s Early Intervention Program, which “assists municipalities experiencing fiscal difficulties to develop comprehensive multi-year financial plans and establish short- and long-term financial objectives.”

The study looked at the township’s finances, demographics, personnel, wastewater collection, administration, public works and police department.

There are some serious statements in the report, including that board members micromanage township employees. The report said if the board tries to direct the manager and other township leaders on day-to-day operations, they are violating a township ordinance that creates the manager position and “treating the township’s management team as mere front-line supervisors instead of professional managers.”

This could explain in part why, since 2011, the township has had seven managers, including both interim and permanent.

That is not acceptable to the township’s employees and township residents.

Almost two full years ago, in an editorial published Oct. 5, 2016, we stated: “The township board of commissioners needs to look at itself and make sure that its hiring procedures, from how it draws its pool of candidates to the questions asked during interviews to the selection of the candidate it thinks is best, is at the level it should be. Then, it must look at how that person is treated after being brought on board.”

Two years later, and that statement appears to be right on target.

Betsy McBride, the township manager hired in May, previously worked as the finance director in both Cheltenham and Whitpain townships and as deputy treasurer in Montgomery County. Most recently, she worked as the assistant finance director and accounting manager for Carlisle. We hope she does a great job and remains in the position for a long time.

But we felt the same way about Frank Williamson, who was an experienced manager. He came in after being director of public safety in Lower Allen Township for more than 15 years as well as Emergency Management coordinator there for more than 10. He remained in the manager job for less than three months, to pursue other options and for family reasons.

The police chief situation must be resolved. Scott Young has been acting officer in charge for more than a year. The report said they were “in discussions” for him to become the chief.

Part of the problem might be that the position of police chief was replaced with public safety director several years ago. If this is the sticking point, resolve it. Hire Young or move on. But make a decision.

This report was finalized in April 2018. Two new members took their seats in January 2018. Ron Paul and Chris DeHart positioned themselves as running against the established board, and both unseated incumbents, Laddie Springer and Ben Hall.

Board President Jon G. Wilt, Vice President Todd F. Truntz and Michael J. Davies are longer-term members of the board. Truntz said the report was a helpful piece of information.

“It appears that there exists in the Township an uneasy employment relationship between the Township Board of Commissioners (the ‘Board’) and some segments of the Township’s labor force,” the report states.

We don’t know specifically if certain board members are more likely to be the causes of the uneasiness. But in reality it doesn’t matter. All five must work together to address these issues.

There are other great suggestions in the report. According to the report, when PEL met with Lower Swatara leaders, there was no updated personnel manual in place. A manual was adopted by the board in 2016, but the report noted that there were suggested revisions that weren’t formalized. That is a must.

It also suggested that job descriptions for every position in the township should be created and updated at least every two years. PEL noted that the first four or five functions in a job description should reflect around 80 percent of the duties.

The township has many things going for it. The report states that the township is financially viable, for example. But managing employees properly should be one of the top tasks of the board.

We look forward to what the board plans to do to address this issue, and hope that it will hold such discussions in public, not in private.